Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Remembering the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas

Posted in amusements, entertainment by commorancy on November 9, 2019

las-vegas-sign.jpgBack in the late 90s and into the early 00s, the Las Vegas Hilton had a Star Trek attraction called The Star Trek Experience. This attraction morphed some over the years and added new features, but its first attraction remained its most impressive. It closed in 2008. Let’s explore and remember this amazing attraction.

Star Trek at the Las Vegas Hilton

The Las Vegas Hilton was a casino and hotel not far off the strip at the south end. Down at this end of the strip and at the time you’d find hotels like the Stratosphere, the Sahara and Circus Circus. Though the Las Vegas Hilton wasn’t on the strip directly, it was not far off of it across from the Las Vegas Convention center.

To combat its off-the-strip location, it employed various marketing practices to entice would-be gamblers to head to this hotel and casino. In that effort, in 1997, it enticed Paramount to build its Star Trek Experience attraction at the hotel where it remained in operation until 2008. I actually liked this casino, not strictly because of its Star Trek area. Today, this hotel is no longer named the Las Vegas Hilton and the Star Trek Experience no longer operates there having lost its lease. The hotel was later briefly renamed the LVH and is today known as the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino and received this rename in 2014. It no longer bears the Hilton name.

However, back in the early 2000s, The Star Trek Experience was something to behold.

Star Trek Experience

This experience was like none other that I’ve visited. When you first entered the hotel where the attraction lived, the Star Trek Experience was to the left. The hotel was to the right. There was also a bar to the immediate right. In fact, the entire casino portion of the hotel around the entry way was entirely space and futuristic themed. This included everything from the carpeting, to the beams to the lighting and even the slot machines had a futuristic theme. The Hilton did up this area right and it entirely looked appropriate with its space theme.

As you entered the Star Trek Experience, the entry way consisted of basically a museum of Star Trek props, video screens running, large starships were suspended from the ceiling, including the Enterprise. As you made your way into the area, you came upon a desk. This is where you bought tickets to enter the show. When it was just the Star Trek Experience alone, you had two ticket choices: the museum alone or the museum and the experience together.

Whichever ticket you bought gave you admission to mill around the museum and look at the props and use the interactive exhibits. The museum encompassed mostly the entry way and ran up into the upper level. The Star Trek Experience had two levels. The upper level, which the museum had ramps and/or stairs to lead you to the queue line. The downstairs included various gift shops and Quark’s restaurant and bar. We’ll talk about the downstairs a bit later.

In the museum, one of the interactive exhibits was a pseudo functional replicator. Of course, it didn’t replicate anything, but the screen in the well area simulated the replication of food and drink items. It was interesting, but it was also a little bit cheesy in quality… as were many of the interactive exhibits. They really weren’t cutting edge when this museum was in operation. The museum portion of the Star Trek Experience wasn’t really the reason to go there. In fact, I found the museum portion to be of such average quality that it kind of set off warning bells that the actual experience itself might not fare much better (at least when you’re a first timer). In this case, it is very much a don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover situation. The Star Trek Experience show part was well worth every cent of that ticket price… at least to me. The museum, on the other hand, was a rip-off that I wish that I could have skipped. Unfortunately, you were locked into buying both with one ticket if you wanted admission to the “show”. To me, it was just a way to boost the ticket admission price.

The Experience Itself

After you made your way to the back of the museum, there was a queue line where you would queue up for the next show. The shows ran about every 15 minutes or so. This meant you could stand in line for up to 15 minutes for the next show, assuming you were in line at less than the number they admit per show. The show itself could only house maybe 15-20 people. I don’t recall the exact number, but once they counted enough heads into the show, the line closed off to wait for the next show.

I visited the show maybe 3 or 4 times while it was open over the years and I think I had to wait one time for the next show because of the head count situation. If you had intended to visit the show at certain times of the day or on certain days, you could encounter larger crowds. If you went on some weekdays, you could breeze through the line into the next show.

All the while you’re standing in line, there are TV displays talking about various Star Trek stuff, sometimes showing excerpts from the TV show or the movies. As you move to the head of the line, there’s a monitor that talks about the safety requirements of the show itself. The museum extended down the queue line hallway which housed props and costumes from characters such as Lursa and B’ator and various Spock outfits from the then recent movies. While the museum portion was interesting enough for the first time visitor, it was simply wallpaper on subsequent visits. It wasn’t even very impressive. I can’t recall the museum updating its contents or remodeling during the entire run of The Star Trek Experience. I could be wrong about that, but that was entirely my impression of the museum area. I personally would have been just as happy to skip the museum cost entirely and jump right into line.

Once you were let into the Experience, you were led down the hall into a small blue room with an interesting lighting concept. You were asked to stand on a line. I believe there were 5 yellow stripes down the center of this rectangular blue room. This meant there would be 5 groups of people each standing on a line. Everyone was situated so that you were standing in the center of the room not touching any of the walls. If you inadvertently leaned on a wall or were touching it, one of the staff would loudly request not to do this.

Once everyone was situated on their line, we were directed to look up and forward to a screen which ran a video that began the entire Experience. Mostly, it discussed safety protocols and not leaning against walls and blah, blah, blah. It was a mostly cheesy video that really was nothing more than what the staff had already told us about standing on the lines. In the middle of the video, the lights begin to flash and there’s a bunch of audio noise as if the power is going out and the whole room plunges into darkness. And… pitch black it was. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. There was no light anywhere.

Suddenly, there’s a huge whoosh of air flow all around. It wasn’t gale force or anything, but it was a startling cold breeze that didn’t seem to come from any specific direction. Then, the floor and ceiling lights come on and… we’re now standing in the center of a transporter room. A literal round, brownish transporter room. The circular room with a circular ceiling, light in the center and all of the paint job of a Next Generation transporter room. It was uncanny. Gone was that small blue room with its yellow lines and in its place was an honest-to-goodness transporter room.

The effect was uncanny and astounding. It was the single thing that made the entire Star Trek Experience worth its price tag. I could have walked out of the Star Trek Experience right at that point and I would have felt satisfied.

But no, the show had only just begun. Two people dressed in Next Generation jumpsuits walk in and one explains that we were transported and intercepted on the Enterprise. The show proceeds on the premise that one in the crowd is related to someone on the Enterprise and that gave the whole show its “story”. As we are led from the transporter room, we are led onto the bridge. This is where the whole story derails a bit. Randoms transporting onto the Enterprise are not likely to be lead to the bridge due to the possibility of takeovers. That’s a breach of protocol. Instead, we likely would have been led to a cargo bay large enough for a crowd of our size or perhaps some place like Ten Forward. I digress.

Anyway, we are led to the bridge… and, a marvel that bridge was. This TNG Enterprise bridge set reconstruction was amazing and entirely spot on. From the wooden arch in the back to the seating just below to the helm control seats in front of the screen. The lighting was spot on, the paneling, the paint job, the leather on the seats… everything was as spot on as I could have ever imagined. It was simply an amazing bridge replica.

Because the story needs to progress, we are again lined up either around the back of the bridge or around areas where the ‘actors’ could do their thing without obstructions. The view screen begins showing a ‘transmission’ about the “heir” being transported aboard for safety and a bunch of blathering ensues between the screen and the actors. The hired actors ranged from decent to downright bad. It all depended on the show. Most of the ‘actors’ were hired due to their height and weight proportions… not so much for their acting abilities. I can guarantee you every single person wearing those TNG jumpsuits looked immaculate in them. They could have easily been an extra in any TNG episode. Everything about this part of the show was high quality. From the costumes to the communicator on their outfits to the pips. Everything was nailed perfectly. In fact, it was so perfectly designed, the show could have used one of these bridges in a pinch had they needed to film there.

The concept of the show itself was really its weak point. The story was designed to enthrall the audience, having them become active (sort of) and unwitting participants. It worked to rope the audience in, but the story was just not that great… and the next part bears this out.

As the whole bridge scene ends, we are led out of the bridge into a oversized turbolift. Once we’re suitably situated into the “turbolift”, the whole thing rocks a bit, the lights flash, there’s some sound and an announcement during the commotion and then it all subsides and the door opens. Not a terribly convincing effect here, admittedly. We’re told while all of the commotion ensues that something is firing upon the Enterprise. At this point, this is where the magic kind of dwindles a bit. As we’re led out of the turbolift, we walk down a hallway that looks more like a hallway on DS9 than the Enterprise and then into an open area, presumably a Shuttle Bay where there’s a shuttle craft parked waiting with the door open. There are also visible EXIT signs along the walk which completely break the magic and which were presumably required by law. As I said, the magic kind of ends here. The shuttle bay area wasn’t that well designed and the shuttle interior looks like a cheesy motion simulator, which it in fact is.

At this point and once we’re in the motion simulator, the “experience” concludes with a ride in a movie based motion simulator that sways, rocks and jerks in time to a movie. The difficulty with the “movie” is that I always found it to be blurry and not a great experience. It was filmed and I believe it actually used many from the TNG cast, but the overall story just wasn’t that great. Additionally, the simulator’s movements were overly herky jerky. If you were one with back or neck problems, you’d want to skip this last part of the ‘ride’ entirely. This part was extremely hard on even people with healthy backs. Again, Shuttle Crafts would have been designed with inertial dampeners and, in fact, you probably wouldn’t have felt much movement at all with the inertial dampeners operating, even when diving and banking and whatever other screen movements were going on. In reality, the entire rocking, swaying and jerking motions were entirely unnecessary and pointless. As I said, the magic dies pretty quickly once you get into this cheesy motion simulator ride.

If the show had ended on being transported back out at the end, that would have been something I could have found to be a befitting ending. At the end, when we exit the shuttle craft, we’re back on Earth and the room looks like a standard building interior. We are led to an elevator and are deposited to the gift shop and restaurant area below the attraction.

The entire show experience lasted perhaps 15 minutes all told, most of it being the movie at the end. The sets built and costumes used were all spot on. The actors were of average quality, many of them you could tell had been doing it for far too long. Though, the actors all being height and weight proportionate certainly made the costumes look all the better. There was certainly not a single overweight actor there.

Gift Shop and Restaurants

After the final elevator deposited us into the gift shop area, we were left to shop from various stores. I believe there may have been 3 or 4 different gift shops with Quark’s bar and restaurant being the primary food place there.

While I did eat at Quark’s once and the food was typical for a mid-high-priced American Bistro like TGI Friday’s or Chili’s, the reason to go there was simply for the ambiance. The bar itself did resemble Quark’s bar on DS9. Though, I think it would have been more appropriate to build Ten Forward than Quark’s. While the area downstairs was themed DS9, the shops themselves looked more like a mall shop than it resembled being on a futuristic ship. The wares being peddled ranged from cheap crap to middle of the road to high end props. It depended on the shop.

I didn’t buy much from these stores because everything was way overpriced. Even Quark’s was overpriced for the type of food quality you get. As I said, the only reason to eat there was its atmosphere and its unique bar drinks. I always liked to look at everything in the shops, but look only, don’t buy.

Costumed Actors

In the shop area, you’d also find additional actors in various dress. Some were dressed like Klingons, some dressed like Ferengi and some dressed like TNG officers, male and female.

As I understood it, the people working these “roles” were actually hired as actors by Paramount. In the Experience itself, these people actually had speaking roles. Downstairs it was all free form. You asked questions and they would ad-lib answers. Mostly it was for photo purposes. I believe you could only take pictures in the shop area, but I could be wrong about photography.

Photographs were entirely off limits throughout the attraction and the museum, from what I recall. Though, many did sneak pictures here and there.

Behind the Scenes

Later during the run of the Star Trek Experience (toward the end of its life), the show began offering a Behind the Scenes ticket purchase. This was separate from and unique to the original show. Instead of going through the show like normal, in between the shows, you would take a tour of the set behind the scenes. You would get photo opportunities on the Bridge itself that you don’t get during the Experience show.

The behind the scenes showed how the gimbal setup worked for the transporter. Basically, the entire blue room was on a gimbal / fulcrum of sorts along with creative lighting, sound and set movement. In about 10 to 15 seconds, the entire room sans floor moved swiftly upwards. The round ceiling and walls quickly moved into place just below the now raised room. When the lights are brought up, it’s as though you’re now standing in the transporter room. The effect is uncanny and astounding. It’s even more astounding when you realize the engineering involved in getting this to work so seamlessly, quickly and noiselessly. The behind the scenes showed a much slowed down version of it to show how the effect was achieved.

The breeze was an unintended side effect of the room being raised up so rapidly. It wasn’t designed as part of the effect. When something that large moves that rapidly, air is displaced. Because the air movement heightened the transporter effect, no effort was employed to get rid of it. Even after knowing how the effect was achieved, subsequent visits, at least for me, were just as mesmerizing. In fact, the entire transporter effect was the entire reason to visit the Star Trek Experience. The rest of it was all gravy. The transporter effect was worth the price of admission alone… which is why I wished they had utilized it twice. Once to start. Once to end it. The cheesy motion simulator was a big letdown after all that had come before.

The Borg Invasion

Around the time the Behind The Scenes began (maybe a little before), the Star Trek Experience introduced a new show called the Borg Invasion. This show was even more of a letdown than the final motion simulator. In this one, you enter a room and you sit in a standard movie theater type seat. A 3D movie begins playing and the only thing that happens with this is a light motion to the seat itself. The seat cushion piece also goes up and down.

The experience was, in fact, so bad compared to the original Experience that I find it hard anyone could have greenlit the idea. It was an average experience that was more akin to seeing a movie than having an experience. Even when the Borg Invasion began, the original Star Trek Experience continued to operate. You could still experience the transporter effect and visit the bridge.

The Overall Experience

The best part of the Star Trek Experience was definitely its transporter effect. It was so well done and so convincing that everything else around it pales in comparison. I do wish that they had given more thought to the story line around the show. The “being an heir to Picard” (or whomever) idea was such a stretch that it felt clumsy. Though, the sets, costumes and the primary effect were top notch. Even the downstairs shop area was convincing as being set inside of DS9.

I do wish the original Star Trek Experience was still in operation somewhere. The show would need to be retooled a bit and perhaps updated for Discovery, but that transporter effect boggles the mind as to how impressive it is (or was).

If you have visited the Star Trek Experience in the past, please recall your experience below in the comments. If you formerly worked at the Star Trek Experience, I’d like to hear from you as well. Please comment below. To avoid any copyright complications with Paramount or CBS, I am avoiding the use of any Star Trek imagery in this post. Please enjoy this post without Star Trek images.

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